Paranormal examines family turbulence and inner turmoil through a supernatural lens that entertains and leaves you wanting more.
I’ll be the first to admit that I know next to nothing about Egyptian film and television: my current knowledge begins and ends with knowing that Omar Sharif was definitely a person who existed. So I thought it would be an exciting challenge to tackle Paranormal, an Egyptian, Arab-language television show produced by Netflix. The show seems to be the brainchild of Amr Salama, who head-wrote and directed every episode. He’s a new but experienced talent, and his abilities as a writer and director shine through in Paranormal’s pilot season.
Paranormal centers around Refaat (Ahmed Amin), a sickly hematologist and college professor. Though he is betrothed to his cousin, Huwaida (Aya Samaha), these plans become complicated when an old flame, Maggie (Razane Jammal), re enters his life… Oh, and his family is also being terrorized by literal ghosts of their past.
Immediately, I always appreciate shows that don’t overstay their welcome. This seems to be less of a trend in recent years, but I remember there being a time when it seemed every show (in the US at least) had to have upwards of twenty episodes a season. Even if the show was great, having too much content can lead to fatigue, and having a mandate of so many episodes every season almost certainly guarantees there will be some stinkers. Paranormal, thankfully, is not one of these aforementioned shows: this pilot season has six episodes, each falling somewhere between fifty and sixty minutes. There is just enough of it to keep you invested and wanting more, but not so much that it will eventually feel like a chore to get through all of it.
Speaking of individual episodes, each installment manages to tell a concise story with a distinct identity, while still contributing to the overarching narrative that carries through each of them. Each focuses on a different monster or supernatural legend, making for a nice and episodic “villain of the week” vibe. There is also a surprising amount of range in aesthetic for the series: there is a consistent tone connecting each episode, but while some of them may be more horror centric, there is one episode which, to me, felt like an Indiana Jones pastiche. Paranormal skillfully balances variety with consistency, and runs a full gambit of fun, spooky, endearing, and in the final episode, downright heartbreaking.
The craft of the film is also consistently good, most specifically its cinematography and set pieces. There are also some seriously impressive character designs, and while some of the CGI isn’t stellar, the makeup and prosthetics departments both should be commended for their work. The show also features a strong original soundtrack, featuring a really cool recurring violin motif that signifies a rise in tension. Paranormal’s weakest technical aspect, however, is probably the lighting. While it’s never as frustratingly dark as some films I’ve discussed on this site, you may have to turn up your laptop’s brightness on more than a few occasions.
The acting is strong throughout, with Ahmed Amin delivering a commanding performance as the show’s main protagonist, portraying the character’s inner conflict, highlighting his turmoil in choosing between what his family wants and he thinks will make him happy, and coming to terms with childhood traumas, whether he wants to or not. Another standout performance comes from the very young Reem Abd El Kader as Shiraz, the ghost of a child (Don’t worry this is something established in the first episode, so I wouldn’t call this a spoiler). Excellent child actors are hard to come by, so when I find one, I always want to make note of it, and Abd El Kader should be commended for her work this season.
The writing is also sharp, never delving too deeply into well-established tropes, and effectively employing a sparing sense of humor, often delivered via Refaat’s inner thoughts. And for what it’s worth, I watched parts of the English dub, and the English-speaking voice actors uniformly deliver strong performances, and the writing stays loyal to its Arabic counterpart. So if you don’t like subtitles, I say the dubbed version is a viable option.
I had no idea what to expect from Paranormal, and I’m delighted to say that it was a pleasant surprise. There are enough scares and tension to put you on the edge of your seat, without being too frightening for those less accustomed to spooky things. It has compelling characters and family dynamics, and will keep you invested in their plight, and hoping that they will overcome the tribulations they face during the show. Paranormal is a show that deserves to have multiple seasons, so I feel it is my duty to tell you all that it is definitely worth your time, and gets an easy recommendation from me.
Don’t miss our monthly updates with film news, movie-inspired recipes and exclusive content! You’ll only hear from us once a month. #nospam